Biotech in a Box outreach program continues to resonate and inspire
August 20, 2023
An outreach program that resonates throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia is Biotech in a Box, which has been providing hands-on science experiments for high school students since 1994. Kathleen Reuwer ‘23, who has been helping with this program, says she is inspired to create an outreach program of her own in the future.
“I know that wherever I go in my teaching career or in graduate school, I want to incorporate a form of outreach like this or start a program like this,” said Reuwer, who worked with the Biotech in a Box program for the last two years. “I know that would take a lot of work, but at least the ideas I was shown through this program are those I want to incorporate in my future career somehow.”
This summer, the program hosted a workshop for high school teachers in Virginia interested in bringing hands-on life science experiments to their students. Reuwer, who received her bachelor’s in neuroscience, was able to see how the kits were used and how the teachers could incorporate them into their curriculum.
“I had seen snippets and a few techniques, but this was the first time I got to see them all, and that was really cool,” Reuwer said. “I knew what all the supplies did individually, but this was my first time seeing them put together in the context of the lab setting and how the teachers can customize the kits for their classes.”
This summer was the first hands-on workshop since the pandemic and DeCourcy’s retirement. The three-day professional development was sponsored by the College of Science, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, and the Academy of Data Sciences at Virginia Tech. Reuwer was excited to move from behind the scenes in preparing the kits to helping implement the experiments with the program’s new manager, Sandy Hancock.
Demonstrations of the kits provide teachers with practice in implementing the experiments, as well as help teachers with ideas for incorporating the hands-on learning within the parameters of the Virginia Standards of Learning. This year, Christiansburg High School Science Teacher Catherine Galecki, who has been using the Biotech in a Box kits since 2018, assisted Hancock in demonstrating all five kits for the teachers in attendance.
“The challenge for the teachers is to incorporate the lab activities into their spaces, time, and curriculum,” Hancock said. The teachers who attended the workshop were amazing and, in preparing for the workshop, I gained a valuable perspective of what the teachers do in the classroom to use the Biotech in a Box program with their students.”
For each kit demonstrated in the workshops, Galecki explained how she connects the science to real-world problems and how she differentiates the lesson for different classes.
“For the DNA kit, the biggest difference is that my biology classes complete a forensics “murder whodunnit” and the DE/AP [Dual Enrollment/Advanced Placement] class completes a fingerprint to determine the possibility of a baby having cystic fibrosis,” said Galecki.
By helping the teachers to see the real-world applications and how to amend those applications to accommodate different curricula, the teachers were able to see more readily how they could individualize the kits to complement their own classes and subject standards.
“This program levels the playing field. Any school can get a box,” said Reuwer, who began working part time with Biotech in a Box in the summer of 2021 when Kristi DeCourcy, the founding manager, hired her to help bring back the program after the pandemic.
Reuwer was excited when she realized her own school, Southwest Virginia Governor’s School, was one of the 246 receiving the kits she helped to put together.
“I didn’t know at the time the kits were from Tech,” Reuwer said. “All the students there received hands-on science experience with the kits, and I know most of them are now going on to higher education, like graduate school, or medical school. It’s just really cool to see that impact.”
“I don’t know how Sandy did it, but we were able to demonstrate all five kits in two and a half days. It was a feat for sure,” said Reuwer. “Sandy just did a really good job of putting that together. The teachers are so wonderful; they have the knowledge and they have the skills. We are just helping with the burden and giving them the resources.”